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THEOLOGY > Sin > Reality of Satan > Demons > Existence of Demons


In the Law given to Moses by God reference is made to the fact that God created all things: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex. 20:6); the word “all” includes everything, the material and the spiritual, the inhabitants of earth and the heavenly host of angelic creatures. All that exists has been brought into existence by God (see: Work of Creation), therefore, no part of creation is autonomous and independent of Him (see: Providence).

Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New Testament is there a description of the demons. There are no grotesque depictions of despicable creatures, although they are associated with goats and frogs (Lev. 17:7; Rev. 16:13). What we know of them is gained from a few simple facts that are stated in the passages that report an incident involving them. Though the Bible deals with evil, the real focus is upon good; that is, the emphasis of Scripture is on the person and work of God not of Satan—the story of redemption is about Christ not demons. Thus our knowledge of demons is more incidental than systematic.

We do know that demons are spiritual and not material, and though they may assume visible forms they exist as spirit beings. In both Testaments, the words that are used of the Holy Spirit are also used of the unseen host of good and evil angels; ruach, translated “spirit,” is used in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:2, “the Spirit of God”; I Sam. 16:14, “an evil spirit”), and pneuma, translated “spirit,” (Eph. 5:18, “filled with the Spirit”; Rev. 16:13, “three unclean spirits”) is used in the New Testament. As the examples indicate the same words that are used of the supernatural of good are used of the supernatural of evil. This fact specifies the spiritual nature of both, that is, as God the Holy Spirit is not material so the angels and demons are not material. But the significant difference between the two is that while the Spirit is not created the angels have been brought into existence.

To affirm spirituality of the demons is to affirm that they are of a different order from man. Their movement is freer and more mobile; and they are not always seen by man, even though they can materialize or make themselves visible if they so desire. It is not easy for us to comprehend their essential nature. We do not really know the extent of their power nor the limitations of their abilities. They do have the capacity to act (Mk. 5:13; Eph. 6:12) and do have intelligence (Mk. 5:24; Jas. 2:19). Perhaps one of the reasons demons seek to inhabit human bodies is that they do not have bodies of their own.

Though the exact number is unknown, many of these spirit beings exist (Deut. 33:2; Dan. 7:10; Matt. 26:53). Hebrews 12:22 speaks of “an innumerable company of angels,” and Revelation 5:11 refers to “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” There are two distinct groups: the good spirits, the angels; and the evil spirits, the demons. From the reference in Revelation 12:4 it is assumed that one-third of the angels became demons; Judaism considered demons to be the large number of fallen angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God (see: Sin in Heaven and Fall from Heaven).

References to demons in both Testaments indicate their existence and also reflect their diabolical nature; in some verses demons are associated with the role they play in the perpetrating of evil. In the following Old Testament references the word for “spirit” is ruach, while pneuma is used the New Testament:

“evil spirit” (Jud. 9:23; I Sam. 16:14-23; 18:10; 19:9; “evil” is ra; other translations have “spirit of ill will,” “harmful spirit,” “distressing spirit”);

“lying spirit” (I Ki. 22:22-23; II Chron. 18:20-22);

“familiar spirit” (Heb. is ob; I Chron. 10:13; II Chron. 33:6);

“perverse spirit” (Isa. 19:14; “spirit of confusion” in KJV);

“spirit of deep sleep” (Isa. 29:10);

“spirit of harlotry” (Hos. 4:12; 5:4; “spirit of whoredom” in ESV);

“unclean spirits” (Matt. 10:1; Mk. 6:7; Acts 5:16; 8:7; Rev. 16:13; “unclean” is akathartos);

“evil spirits” (Lu. 7:21; Acts 19:12-13; “evil” is poneros);

“spirit of divination” (Acts 16:16);

“deceiving spirits” (I Tim. 4:1; “deceiving” is planos; “deceitful spirits” in ESV;

“seducing spirits” in KJV);

“spirits of demons” (Rev. 16:14; “demonic spirits” in ESV).

Satan is “the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24; “the prince of demons” in ESV), with the demons being called the “angels” of the devil (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:3-4, 7-9). Beneath Satan there is an order: thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers (Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16; 2:10), though there is no precise definition for each of these; one of his followers is referred to as the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” (Dan. 10:13). In a different context Paul makes another reference to the variety that characterizes the evil world: “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12; ESV: “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”). Thus there is an established hierarchy of evil beings beneath the Evil One.

Jesus dealt with demons (Mk. 5:1-20), his apostles were given power over demons (Matt. 10:1, 8; Mk. 6:7, 13; Lu. 9:1), and the same power was bestowed on the seventy (Lu. 10:1, 17-18). Each of these accounts affirms the reality of an unseen evil world composed of spirit beings who interact with man.

With these spirit beings man must compete, without, for the most part, even knowing the extent of their influence or activity. This becomes particularly precipitous when belief in their very existence is denied thereby enabling them to function without recognition by the individuals they are confronting.

While present day scholars question the worldview of the Biblical writers, it is without debate that the ancient authors did believe in demons and did believe that the demons were active in the world. By raising doubt in regard to the worldview of the Biblical authors, modern writers can dismiss the reality of demons without completely rejecting the Scriptures; that is, they reject the view of the writers of Scripture—their erroneous belief in demons—without rejecting the Scriptures themselves and the moral teachings obtained from them. But in the process something of the normative nature and authority of the Scriptures are lost (see: Truth).

The Scriptures attest that they are from God and that they contain the Truth. Additionally, they affirm that they are trustworthy and will not lead into error because they are not erroneous. If Scripture is granted the authority and the truthfulness that it claims for itself, then the existence of demons must be accepted (see: Bible). The real point of contention is not the existence of demons but the nature of Scripture.

A quote from Calvin is provoking:

How meaningless would these expressions be, that the devils are destined for eternal judgment, that fire has been prepared for them, that they are now tormented and tortured by Christ’s glory, if devils were nonexistent (Institutes, I, 14, 19)!

Then Calvin adds this observation regarding the existence of demons:

But this matter does not require discussion among those who have faith in the Lord’s Word, while among these empty speculators, indeed, to whom nothing is pleasing unless it be new, there is little profit in the testimonies of Scripture (Ibid.).

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